Learn about barriers to market entry and local requirements, i.e., things to be aware of when entering the market for this country.
Belgium boasts an open market well connected to the major economies of the world. As a logistical gateway to Europe, host to the EU institutions and NATO, and a central location closely tied to the major European economies (Germany and France in particular), Belgium is an attractive market and location for U.S. investors. The Belgian economy continues to attract significant levels of investment in chemicals, petrochemicals, transport equipment, machinery, plastics, mineral products, base metals, precious metals and stones, environmental technologies, food processing and packaging, health technologies and pharmaceuticals, information and communication, and textiles. Finally, Belgium is a highly developed, long-time economic partner of the United States that benefits from an extremely well-educated workforce, world-renowned research centers, and the infrastructure to support a broad range of economic activities. Since June 2015, the Belgian government has undertaken a series of measures to reduce the tax burden on labor and to increase Belgium’s economic competitiveness and attractiveness to foreign investment. A July 2017 decision to lower the corporate tax rate from 35 to 25 percent further improved the investment climate. Belgium also has indicated its support within the OECD for a 15 percent global minimum tax.
In 2020, total Belgian exports to the United States were worth $29.04 billion, ranking the United States as Belgium’s fifth largest export destination in the world. The most important exports included chemicals (65.6%), machinery and equipment (9.7%) and transport equipment (4.5%). The United States was Belgium’s fourth largest supplier of imports in 2020, with the value of imported goods totaling $26.64 billion. The largest segments of imports from the U.S. were chemicals (38.5%), transport equipment (12.9%) and machinery and equipment (12%).
The COVID-19 pandemic negatively impacted the Belgian economy in 2020 and – to a lesser extent – will continue to inhibit growth through 2021. According to the National Bank of Belgium (NBB), real GDP contracted by 6.2% in 2020, and the impact on public finances led to a deficit of 10.1% of GDP. The national debt increased to 115% of GDP by the end of 2020. Projections for 2021 indicate that GDP will likely grow by 5.5%, whereas the predicted deficit will likely total 6.8% of GDP. According to a summer forecast published by the NBB, the second quarter of 2021 will see an acceleration of economic growth from 1% to 1.3% compared to the first three months of the year. This increase is due to a revival in domestic demand, especially household consumption. The NBB expects private consumption to accelerate further in the second quarter, as COVID-19 restrictions are gradually rolled back.
As was the case in 2020, Belgium will continue to rely on EU financial support mechanisms and interventions by its federal and regional governments to pull itself out of the economic crisis in 2021. Federal and regional support measures mainly consist of deferrals of tax and social security contributions, direct income support measures, increased investment deductions, and the possibility to put workers on temporary unemployment due to force majeure. The NBB contributed by easing several prudential measures, including removing the counter-cyclical capital buffer. So far, these support measures have contributed to limiting job losses (at least in the short term) and bankruptcies in the most affected sectors such as leisure, restaurants, hotels, and transport.
The Belgian government has gradually relaxed its COVID-19 measures since the beginning of summer 2021, due in part to its comprehensive vaccine campaign, which ranks among the most successful in Europe. However, given the recent increase in infection rates due to new COVID-19 variants, the reimposition of measures in the fall and/or winter 2021 remains a possibility.